The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group have introduced a new series entitled People to Watch that focuses on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this fourth installment, The Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Ina McDonald, district manager for Barons Market in San Diego, California. Sorensen’s questions are in bold.
Tell me a little bit about you and what you like to do with your time away from the office.
I love to spend time with my daughter, her husband and my two grandsons. I also love walking on the beach with my rescue dog, Scotch, and trying all the new restaurants that San Diego has to offer.
Please provide a brief description of Barons Market.
Barons Market is a family-owned neighborhood market that sells natural, organic and specialty food at rock-bottom prices.
What is your role at Barons Market? Responsibilities?
I’m the district manager overseeing our San Diego County stores. We currently have four stores in San Diego County and will be opening a fifth store at the end of this year, which will bring us to a total of nine stores in Southern California. My main focus is to develop our staff as well as to teach our core values.
What was your career path to this position?
I’m originally from Scotland, where I managed a bar, but I eventually became responsible for training all new staff with each new bar our company acquired. I moved to the United States six years ago to be closer to my daughter and started at Barons Market as a deli clerk. I was quickly promoted to deli manager then store assistant manager and eventually to store manager. I was promoted to district manager (in April). It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
I’ve worked with a lot of people who have come from larger grocery stores and have found that there’s a huge gap between store managers and the rest of the team, so it’s important to work on communicating more with each other to close that gap. Remember that your employees are human beings and they really are the life and soul of your business. Treat them with respect, listen to their ideas and encourage them to grow.
In what ways does Barons Market focus on developing future leadership?
We have a fantastic leadership program called the “Lead Program” that recognizes those employees that not only show leadership skills but also understand our company’s core values. When an employee starts the Lead Program, they are given a designated department and are taught every aspect of how that department operates. Once they’ve mastered that department, they rotate to the next, eventually learning, working and mastering every department in the store. This experience not only teaches them how the entire store operates, but it prevents any walls from being formed between departments. Once they complete the entire Lead Program, we have a big celebration to recognize them in front of the entire management staff, our office and even the company’s founder and president. It’s a big deal.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry—either internally or externally?
Developing and coaching our future leadership within the company is the most important part of my job and, quite frankly, one of the main focuses of our company. We believe that happy employees make happy customers, which then helps to create happy and thriving communities.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
Do what makes you happy, be yourself, work hard and get creative. And make sure you enjoy customer service and working with others in retail.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point that you found most helpful? Two or three points would be good.
• Lead by example.
• Never expect anyone to do any job I wouldn’t do myself.
• Always show great integrity and honesty.
What else would you like the readers of The Shelby Report to know about you, your employer and/or other relevant industry information and insights?
Everyone thinks that the key is to make your customers happy, but the best way to do that is to make sure your employees are happy. That is the key. If you love what you do, no matter what industry you are in, you’ll never work a day in your life.